Ban Political Advertising

Twitter has decided to ban political advertising. Facebook has not. Political advertising is a bigger source of revenue for Facebook than Twitter, so this is not surprising. The controversy is about censoring lies in political ads.

Facebook does not want to do that, likely because it would have a tough time deciding what was actually a lie, and whatever it did would result in an attack by whichever side felt aggrieved.

That position makes sense as a practical matter but, as always, does not solve the problem.

The flaw in democracy is that voters are stupid. If you let them be lied to, they will be stupider still. Stupid voters may not be highly correlated with good leadership.

Proposed solutions designed to weed out lies tend to put the burden on either the consumers themselves (voters) or on the distributors (social media but curiously not newspapers, television or radio).

If you really cared about banning political advertising, you would put the burden on the candidates themselves, their advisers and the people making the ads to police accuracy.

Those who created a false advertisement would be banned from roles as political consultants and purveyors of campaign services. Candidates might be disqualified from the race.

Of course, there would be much First Amendment posturing, mostly designed to make the issue go away. As always, there is precedent, albeit inconvenient.

The securities laws prohibit lying when you sell stocks and bonds so why can’t there be laws to prohibit lying when you sell politicians?


2 Responses to “Ban Political Advertising”

GARRARD GLENN, November 02, 2019 at 8:40 pm said:

Politicians will often prognosticate about the benefits their voters and constituents will enjoy once the politician is elected. These prognostications are not always accurate. However, I don’t think we can accuse these politicians of lying when things don’t work out exactly as they planned. An increase in voter cynicism might be appropriate, but lying would be hard to prove. The best laid plans of mice and men often don’t come to pass, in many arenas of life.

However, if a politician lies about what he or she has already accomplished, then a penalty for such behavior would be appropriate. There are a number of political fact-checking sites online nowadays, and lies are sometimes detected in this manner. But the hard fact is most voters don’t seem to pay a lot of attention to these findings. They vote according to partisan, ideological leanings, and are little deterred, if at all, by the past inaccuracies of their selected politicians. Politicians know this. Hence, the lying about the past is likely to continue.

Does it matter? I don’t know. Arguably, the most successful presidential politician of the modern era was Ronald Reagan. Did he lie about his past deeds? I don’t know, but he had by all accounts a successful presidency.

Perhaps some day someone will check up on this. That person will not be me, but I would be interested in reading what another may find.


Haven Pell, November 03, 2019 at 4:00 pm said:

As I continued thinking I also came up with the past / future distinction. Agree. Maybe people would pay more attention to fact checkers if there were consequences? Transfer varying amounts of money from his coffers to his opponent’s depending on the severity of the lie. Fooling voters is not the hardest thing in the world.


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